At the crest of Central Park’s North Woods, one of the few places in central Manhattan where you can maintain (if fleetingly) the fantasy of being in the wilderness, perches Blockhouse No. 1.
This fort is the oldest structure in the park, constructed as part of a series of fortifications during the War of 1812. It is the sole remaining fortification from these defenses, which originally included three other forts in Harlem (now Morningside) Heights.
Blockhouse No. 1 was hastily constructed under the direction of General Joseph Gardner Swift. Manhattan’s fortifications were prompted by a nearby naval battle. On August 9, 1814, a squadron of British war vessels attacked the town of Stonington, Connecticut. Within days, New Yorkers assembled to dig trenches and build forts along the high ground in Manhattan. Firemen, lawyers, members of the Master Butchers Association, the Sons of Erin, Columbia College students, and others volunteered, building the fort out of materials brought with them, resulting in the red sandstone blocks included with the Manhattan schist. Blockhouse No. 1 was built on a previously existing foundation, likely dating back to the Revolutionary War. The fort consists of a two-story bunker containing small gunports. It originally included a revolving turret for a cannon.
None of these fortifications ever saw combat. Shortly following their construction, the Treaty of Ghent was signed to end the war, after which the fortifications were abandoned practically overnight. Blockhouse No. 1 was later used as an ammunition and storage building, during which time the top two feet of stonework were added. It was maintained by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux as a lovely stone folly in their design of Central Park.
Visiting Blockhouse No.1 today, you will see no signs to indicate this history. This is because the fort has a curious habit of losing its plaques. The first bronze tablet commemorating the fort’s history was placed above the door in 1905. The unexplained absence of Park Commissioner Pallas at this ceremony caused for it to be accepted instead by General Frederick D. Grant, son of U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant. However, this original plaque was stolen, noticed missing in 1913. In 1993, the Blockhouse had another sign erected recounting its history, only to be stolen again in 2013.
Know Before You Go
Visible on Google Maps, Blockhouse No. 1 is located in Central Park's North Woods approximately at the intersection of W 108 St and Adam Clayton Powell Jr Blvd, were they to extend into the park.